The art of perfumery, like all art forms, has it’s pioneers and masters. I think it’s safe to say that Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab creations are among the truest works of art in the perfume world. They create perfume oils based upon everything from famous literature and works of art, to people, amimals or locations. But no matter what the scent, their gorgeous fragrances evoke a feeling. Whatever your emotion, BPAL has a scent to perfectly match the mood. They delve into every range of human feeling and create accordingly.
Each BPAL scent collection is based on a theme. And it’s as varied as you’d ever hope to imagine for a fragrance site! For example, Mad Tea Party collection takes it’s cue from none other than Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Ars Amatoria is based on the Art of Love (home to their most popular oil, Snake Oil, a blend of exotic Indonesian oils sugared with vanilla. How good does that sound?) For those of us who love to travel, or just love to dream about it, Wanderlust has an oil for every destination. Including one dear to my heart – New Orleans – a combo of sweet honeysuckle and jasmine with a hint of lemon and spice.
I’ve been lucky enough to become friends with the Foundress of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, Beth Moriarty Barrial, and let me tell you, she is as sweet as her oils are amazing. Read on to get to know this amazingly prolific and talented perfume queen (and check out her badass self in the pic of her and her hubby at their pirate-themed wedding!)
Christy for wht: How long has Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab been in operation, and how many scents did you start with?
Beth: You’re asking a new mom to remember things! I have mom brain! This seems like so long ago. BPAL has been in its current iteration since 2002, Black Phoenix since 1999, and I’ve been making smellies for people since about 1992. If I recall correctly, there were seven scents that I first sold online: Snake Oil, Anathema, Debauchery, Twilight, Penitence, Forbidden Fruit, and Hunger. Some of the other scents from the first years were Pulse Points, Vixen, Satyr, Cabaret, Sacred Whore of Babylon, Banshee, Feu Follet, and Chimera.
Scent is such a powerful thing. It’s amazing how a certain smell can take you back in time. Certain BPAL oils have taken me on journeys to places I’ve been, and some places I hope to go! You have such a gift for creating some seriously thought provoking scents. Did you always have a love for the olfactory system?
Always, as long as I can remember. I’m fascinated by the effect scent has on emotions, and especially the idea of Proustian Memory. Scent is so primal, and yet is so under appreciated.
Your ability to create a specific scent for literary characters, phrases and stories is uncanny. For example, the Alice collection. Every oil in that collection conjures up images of Wonderland when you smell them, it’s really amazing. How do you come up with the combinations? Do they come to you complete or do you test things out until you feel they represent the character or piece of literature?
Thank you, Christy! Its hard to answer this question, because the process for every scent is unique. Sometimes a scent comes to me whole – Frumious Bandersnatch (Bandersnatch musk, redolent of spicy carnations, wild plums and chrysanthemum) came to me in a dream, corny as that sounds – and sometimes it takes a huge amount of experimentation to get a scent right. The whole of the (still pending) Alchemists Local 93 series is a good example of the latter. It has taken me over six years to get the scents in that series the way I want them.
Sometimes we’ll get a scent to where we want it, and then we’ll run into a component issue that will force us to have to shelve it or come up with a new angle on the concept.
When we work with artists and authors on a scent, the process is completely different. While we usually begin with our own impressions of the concept, their input is paramount, and we endeavor to stay true to the artist’s vision and what they feel their creation should smell like. Working with others helps me to stay flexible creatively, and inspires me to go in new directions.
Do you have a favorite?
This is such a hard question to answer! I truly love everything we do, even if a scent isn’t something I would wear myself. I love the independent scents we create, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to have collaborated with all the other creative minds that we’ve been able to work with.
If I had to pick favorites, though, it would be Snake Oil, which I created for myself decades ago, Dorian (a Victorian fougere with three pale musks and dark, sugared vanilla tea) which I created for my husband, and all the scents that I’ve made for my daughter, Lilith. The Lil scents are little markers in the timeline of my life with her, and they mean the world to me.
Do you come up with scents daily?
Beth: Sometimes yes, sometimes no! It depends on my mindset at any given time. I work on scents in some capacity almost every day. Lord, even in my sleep.
Stef and myself have been obsessed with many of your LE scents. So we have to ask and make a plea…Will Monsterbait ever be resurrected?
We’ve been working on a new Monsterbait series for a few years. Hopefully, it’ll be ready soon!
Before BPAL, did you work in the aromatherapy or perfume world?
I apprenticed in the industry for ages, but it was out of a love of the creative process and because of the joy that perfume brings me. Initially, I had no intention of selling my creations. It just sort of happened, and I’m glad that it did. There are few things in this world as gratifying about being able to share what you love with others.
Do you find there is an audience for every scent? And is there a most popular collection?
I think there has been an audience for every scent except for Gore Shock. I think maybe I went a little too true to the concept with that one!
Our most popular collection is probably Ars Amatoria. People love love. And sex!
The BPAL forum is such a handy way to read reviews and try to decide what scents to buy. Has the forum been around since the beginning, or did it come soon after?
The BPAL forum is an independent entity that came about in 2004, and is a labor of love on the part of the administrators and moderators that take care of it. I don’t have the words for how much the work, love, sweat, and tears that they put into the forum means to me. I think the most amazing thing about bpal.org is the sense of family there. Newcomers and old school members alike can share their personal triumphs and sorrows with each other in an open, warm, and caring atmosphere. A haven like that is so rare in this world, especially on the internet.
I’ve found lifelong friends amongst our customers thanks to bpal.org. My life would be a much greyer place without it.
Has motherhood inspired some new scent combinations?
Beth: Lord knows I came up with some crazy shit when I was pregnant! See Irrelevant and Disturbing Surreal Crawdad Dream. (This was a LE, forum only scent, described as: An irrelevant, disturbing, and surreal scent: red currant, green tea, red musk, Hawaiian ginger, benzoin, vanilla, coriander, squash blossom, and blueberry.)
All of the Lilith scents that we’ve made since her birth are like a living, breathing scrapbook of our life. I don’t know if motherhood has affected the way I create oils, but it has expanded the way I perceived the act of perfumery, if that makes sense. I can create markers of moments in my life with my daughter in the most amazing ways.
Can you give us a sneak peak of collections in the works or upcoming releases?
Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere scents are coming out soon, and we’re working with Jill Thompson on a Scary Godmother series, and with the guys at Boom! Studios on scents representing their titles. I can’t tell you how excited I am about these new scents!
What are your favorite smells in everyday life?
My baby’s hair and my husband’s skin. Honeysuckle and jasmine on a summer night. The ocean, even during red tide. Puppy feet. Squished grass. Old books. The ozone smell after lightning strikes.
And no wht interview is complete without a reach in our potluck question vault…
I heart: making things smell, arguing about politics, reading, mechanical things, strange smells, bright colors, weird tchotchkies, gambling, Delta blues, 70’s glam, funeral jazz, fin de siècle era everything, Weimar cabaret, old watch parts, outsider art, toys, and dolls. I really could go on answering this for ages; I heart a ton of shit!
I’m a do-gooder because I…try to make sure I do at least one thing every day that makes someone happy.
What book do you think everyone should read? Can I pick more than one? Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and Man and His Gods by Homer Smith.
You can have front row concert tickets to see anyone, who do you choose? Leonard Cohen.
If I were an 80’s movie/tv/music star, I’d be: Ed Asner as Lou Grant! Oh wait, that’s 70’s…
What’s your sign and do you fit the traits of it? Pisces, and much to my chagrin, yeah…I probably do.
What are 3 things you can’t live without? My blankie, Sugar Free Red Bull, and lip gloss.
What’s the one thing always in your bag? Lately? A pacifier and wipes!
What characteristic do you admire most in a person? Which one do you despise? Admire: integrity. Despise: bullshitters.
What are you three make up must haves? Laura Mercier tinted foundation, my Shu Uemura eyelash curler, and cheap Maybelline mascara.
If you had a spare $500, what would you do with it? Blow it on toys. Toys for the baby, toys for the husband, toys for my brother, toys for me. I’m a sucker for toys.
Tell us some your guilty pleasures… World of Warcraft. Shoes. And lord…True Blood. I am awash with shame every time I watch it, but I’m there every week.
Thank you to Beth for her time and for the fabulous interview ~wht. And be sure to check back tomorrow for our “understanding BPAL guide” and a review of the oils!